Imagine there's no Ethernet

08 Oct 2012

Over on sister site Network World Asia, there’s an interesting thought exercise from Jim Duffy – supposing Ethernet had lost the LAN wars?

It’s an interesting question – not least because Ethernet has evolved way beyond its original mission as a simpler way to network your office computers and peripherals. Ethernet thrives from access links to the core, and Ethernet based services literally have global reach.

If Ethernet had not taken off as it had, and technologies like FDDI and Token Ring had survived, the networking world would be a much different place:

Token Ring in the LAN! FDDI in the metro! ATM in the WAN! Fiber Channel Over Token Ring! IBM would be what Cisco Systems is now! The cloud would not exist!

Imagine that.

Analysts weigh in:

"Standards, consistency, simplicity, scale and innovation would have suffered," says IDC analyst Rohit Mehra. "If there was no consistency, networking would be even more complex than it is today.”

"It would be more complicated, less reliable and slower," says Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research. "There'd be more outages, and perhaps our expectations on service levels would be lower."

"We would have gone through a much longer period of proprietary networks," says Jon Oltsik, principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "The goodness of IP, including the Internet, wouldn't have happened as quickly."

Or not. It’s always difficult to say what would have happened in an alternate universe. (If Steve Jobs had never been born, would Nokia and Symbian be kings of the smartphone hill? Would 4G be necessary? Who knows?)

And looking at the comments above, to me they highlight the strengths that made Ethernet the success it’s become. Put another way, given the advantages Ethernet had over rival technologies, and the determination of the IEEE to extend Ethernet all the way into the core, it’s hard to imagine that things could have turned out any other way. It’s like trying to imagine a world where GSM flopped and we all ended up using D-AMPS and migrated to IS-136.

As if.

Then again, it’s worth remembering all the naysayers who laughed at the very notion that Ethernet could ever achieve anything remotely approaching carrier-grade, and only a fool would trust a five-nines High Availability network with it.

Ha ha.

So I suppose the outcome could have been very different in the end, if enough CTOs had listened to the naysayers.

Thoughts? Post ‘em below.

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